A year and a half ago, I started writing this column by trying to assemble the ultimate mix-a-six pack. So it seemed fitting that for my final article for the Providence Phoenix, I finish the job by rounding out my list of must-try beers to an even dozen.
The initial six selections covered a range of brewers and styles: ALLAGASH WHITE, DOGFISH HEAD'S 90 MINUTE IPA, FOUNDERS BREAKFAST STOUT, SMUTTYNOSE ROBUST PORTER, THOMAS HOOKER'S HOP MEADOW IPA, and IPSWICH ORIGINAL ALE. You might notice that these are predominately local selections, in a nod to the fact that we can drink extremely well by drinking local. While the next half-dozen go a little further afield, the original moral remains and each still resides in the good ol' USA.
I'd like to start with a truly unique beer, not an easy accomplishment in the increasingly crowded craft beer marketplace. LAGUNITAS' A LITTLE SUMPIN' SUMPIN' ALE is an American Pale Wheat Ale that registers an unheard of 7.5% ABV. You would never know it, however, as this is a smooth, hoppy brew all the way through. And if you like this as much as I did, Lagunitas also releases A LITTLE SUMPIN' WILD ALE, a beer that loads up on wheat malts and uses a wild yeast strain to give it a decidedly Belgian bend.
Speaking of Belgian beers, OMMEGANG of Cooperstown, NY, is one of the best American brewers at attempting these difficult styles. HENNEPIN (FARMHOUSE SAISON) is one of my favorite beers for a sophisticated flavor that is alternately spicy, lemony, grassy, sweet, and earthy. Dry and easy drinking, this is another beer that hides its 7.7% ABV well. It isn't cheap at $10 for a four-pack, but this accessible beer is one of my most frequent recommendations to novice drinkers looking to give craft beer a chance.
Equally drinkable and much more sessionable is FULL SAIL'S PALE ALE. This Pale Ale out of Oregon has a very appealing fresh hop character in both the aroma and taste. There are also enough Pale and Crystal malts to make this a balanced, crisp brew. It's so delicious that I could never grow bored of it.
Another generously hopped beer that doesn't have to travel quite so far to get to your refrigerator is VICTORY'S HOPDEVIL ALE. HopDevil is orange in color with good head retention and a sweet, appealing aroma bursting with fruity hops. Caramel malts are robust enough to provide a medium body to the brew and balance the in-your-face citrusy hops. Here Victory manages to walk a fine line of pleasing hop heads with a delicious hop flavor, while still keeping it balanced enough for more mainstream drinkers — not an easy feat!
Closer still is Plymouth, Massachusetts' MAYFLOWER BREWING. Makers of several solid, very traditional English ales, my pick of the bunch would definitely be their PORTER. This pours a dark brown with roasted coffee and chocolate malts on the nose. In addition to roastiness, the taste has an unmistakably hoppy undercurrent and entirely appropriate 5.5% ABV. The mouthfeel is smooth, creamy, and full-bodied. With all of the extreme and adventurous brewers out there, it is refreshing to have a local brewer that is willing to stay true to style and put out the drinkable classics that you crave.